The Top Contributing Factors in Boating Accidents & Deaths

While the summer’s busiest boating months may be coming to an end, it is important to remain vigilant in avoiding dangerous boating accidents. In 2018, boating accidents from September through January accounted for about 20% of the total accidents that year. When reviewing the primary contributing factors of boating accidents, almost all were avoidable with appropriate behavior. Please note: all statistics mentioned in this article were provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security & U.S. Coast Guard in the 2018 Recreational Boating Statistics Report.

  • #5: Excessive Speed – 6.6% of Boating Accidents in 2018

Excessive speed while boating is defined as: “Speed above that which a reasonable and prudent person would have operated under the conditions that existed. It is not necessarily a speed in excess of a posted limit.”

Excessive speed as the top contributing factor in an accident caused 25 deaths and 231 injuries in 2018. It is very important to note here that, as stated in the definition, this does not mean the operator was driving at a speed higher than the posted limit – but a speed higher than which a “reasonable and prudent person” would have gone. Boating speed limits do not take into consideration weather events. If you are boating on a particularly foggy or rainy day, it is vital for the safety of yourself and those around you that you take it slower than you may usually. You may know that area extremely well, but you don’t know who else may be on the water.

  • #4: Machinery Failure – 7.7% of Boating Accidents in 2018

Machinery failure is defined as: “Defect and/or failure in the machinery or material, design or construction, or components installed by the manufacturer involved in the mechanical propulsion of the boat (e.g., engine, transmission, fuel system, electric system, and steering system).”

Per the 2018 Recreational Boating Statistics Report, 54% of machinery failure related accidents were caused by a form of engine failure. While there is no way to guarantee you’ll avoid a machinery failure, you can significantly reduce your chances by performing regular boat maintenance and having your boat inspected regularly. Many sailors recommend performing a routine check of engine systems before you start your boat up each time.

  • #3: Operator Inexperience – 9.3% of Boating Accidents in 2018

Operator Inexperience is defined as: “Lack of practical experience or knowledge in operating a vessel or, more particularly, the vessel involved in the accident.”

In order to be operating your boat, you must have passed a state recognized boating exam. Many feel that their learning is done as soon as they receive their license – but this should not be the case. Take your time when operating a boat you have never used before, and be sure to learn all you can about it before operating it where others are nearby. As with many things in life, you will gain experience and essential knowledge simply by operating your boat. It is important to take your time and think rationally when you encounter a new obstacle.

  • #2: Improper Lookout – 10.6% of Boating Accidents in 2018

Improper lookout is defined as: “No proper watch; the failure of the operator to perceive danger because no one was serving as lookout, or the person so serving failed in that regard. Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.”

Improper lookout is the second highest cause of injury reported in 2018, accounting for 12.5% of all injuries. It is important to always have someone dedicate their full attention to the lookout duties on your boat. If the dedicated lookout seems to be distracted, you may want to ask them to switch with another passenger to ensure this position is tended to at all times.

  • #1: Operator Inattention – 15.7% of Boating Accidents in 2018

Operator inattention is defined as: “Failure on the part of the operator to pay attention to the vessel, its occupants, or the environment in which the vessel is operating.”

Operator inattention was the #1 cause of boating accidents and the #1 cause of boating injury in 2018. It is essential that you focus on your duties as operator of the boat. Whether it is your guests, exhaustion, or any other factor, it is important that you take a break when you find yourself becoming distracted. While there may not be many other vehicles in the area, operating a boat with your full attention is just as important as operating your car with your full attention.

Alcohol use while operating a boat comes in #6 in the factors contributing to a boating accident in 2018. It is important to note that while it may not be in the top 5, it is the #1 most deadly cause. According to the report, “Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; where the primary cause was known, it was listed as the leading factor in 19% of deaths.”

According to the Code of Virginia § 29.1-738: “No person shall operate any watercraft, as defined in § 29.1-733.2, or motorboat which is underway while such person has a blood alcohol concentration at or greater than the blood alcohol concentration at which it is unlawful to drive or operate a motor vehicle…”

If you have been injured in a boating accident, call the Richmond boating accident lawyers of Collier & Collier, P.C. at 804-409-2661. We are familiar with the maritime laws and boating safety regulations of Virginia and the U.S. Coast Guard. We service clients in Richmond and beyond.